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Hidden Hong Kong: A look into Hong Kong’s wild boars

By Catharina Cheung 30 August 2021

Header image courtesy of K.C. Hung (via Shutterstock)

The last thing a visitor to Hong Kong might expect from a thriving metropolitan city like ours is an abundance of wildlife, but anyone who has gone on a dusk-time run along Bowen Road will no doubt have come across our wild boars, snuffling around without a fear in the world.

(In)famous for being an endearing sight on hikes or causing consternation for wandering into the MTR, you’ll find public opinion divided on whether these are peaceful creatures that deserve to be protected, or fearsome beasts that will maul a passerby just for looking at their piglets funny. Either way, wild boars have increasingly been crossing the line into urban life in recent years. Here’s a look at the history of Hong Kong’s wild boars, and some interesting incidents they have sparked off over the years.

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Photo: Jimmy Chan (via Shutterstock)

What even is a wild boar?

The scientific name for wild boars is sus scrofa, otherwise known as the common or Eurasian wild pig. One of the most widely distributed mammals in the world, wild boars are also Hong Kong’s largest land mammal, reaching up to two metres in body length and weighing between 150 to 600 pounds.

It is not unusual to see wild boar families out and about scrounging for food—a sow with three or four piglets trailing behind her is a fairly common sight. Adult boars may look kind of boring with their coarse dark fur, but juveniles up to 10 months old—known as squeakers in hunting terminology—sport light brown or cream-coloured stripes, rather like a chipmunk.

Where did wild boars come from?

Studies in mitochondrial DNA have actually pointed to wild boars having originated from Southeast Asian islands such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where they then spread through the Old World, into mainland Eurasia and North Africa. Evolution has since ensured various subspecies of the sus scrofa, and the ones we have in Hong Kong are likely the Northern Chinese boar (S. s. moupinensis), a regional variety found along coastal China all the way down to Vietnam, and also inland in Sichuan.

The wild boar is nowhere near endangered, and its impressive adaptability to different habitats has meant that it is actually considered an invasive species in some areas where the wild boar has been introduced. In most of the world, the common grey wolf is the boar’s main natural predator, with the Eastern counterpart being the tiger and the komodo dragon.

Photo: @irisphoto1 (via Shutterstock)

Needless to say, such predators have long since been gone in Hong Kong. Our borders used to be home to apex predators such as tigers, leopards, and Asiatic wild dogs, but with the shooting of Hong Kong’s last confirmed tiger in the 1940s, the wild boar was essentially upgraded to the top of our wild mammal food chain and its numbers have since proliferated exponentially.

Nowadays, the only animal that could tackle a wild boar is the python—and there have been sightings of pythons swallowing boars in Sai Kung—but the suid mostly trots around Hong Kong unchallenged.

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A wild boar appears!

Wild boars are naturally shy and nocturnal creatures, but with real estate developments increasingly encroaching on Hong Kong’s nature and the human propensity to feed and fawn upon furry animals, our boars have become bolder about venturing into urban spaces. This often results in sometimes alarming interactions between man and pig. See below for some wild boar-related sightings.

  • Earlier in June this year, a young boar attracted much attention when it boarded a train at Quarry Bay MTR station. It curled up on a priority seat for a while, and even switched to the Tseung Kwan O line a few stops later, making it across the harbour before being captured. One does wonder where it was commuting to.
  • During the height of the sultry summer last year, a family of wild boars decided to cool down in style by going for a swim in the fountain of the Bank of China Tower in Central. Compilation videos of the sow with four piglets exploring the structure and dipping in its waters have delighted many Hongkongers and quickly went viral.
  • An injured boar sought sanctuary in Kennedy Town MTR station around mid-2019, leaving a trail of bloody hoof prints as it ran around the station in confusion. It was eventually corralled next to a lift and sweetly given an apple before the AFCD turned up to tranquilise it.
Photo: Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group (via Facebook)
  • Earlier that summer, a group of mainland Chinese campers on Ham Tin Beach in Sai Kung was confronted with a wild boar that crashed their party and tried to steal their tent. The thieving swine was captured on video strolling by and sniffing a green tent, before abruptly grabbing a corner of the fabric and running off with it—he was eventually shooed off.
  • Something must’ve been in the air of October 2018 because there were several cases of boars displaying unusual aggressive behaviour. Two people were injured by wild boars within two weeks, occurring in the same spot in Ma On Shan; elsewhere in Wong Tai Sin, three elderly residents were charged by a boar and sustained injuries, one of which was a bite wound.
  • In late December 2016, two wild boars wandered into Hong Kong International Airport in separate incidents on the same day. The animals were presumed to have swum over from Lantau Island and caused considerable confusion on the airport apron. One jumped back into the water of its own accord after half an hour, while the other had to be forcibly restrained by airport security. It sustained enough serious injuries that it later had to be euthanised.
Photo: on.cc
  • Mid-2016 saw a young boar leading police and AFCD members on a three-hour-long wild pig chase around Admiralty after it was spotted near the main entrance of the Conrad International Hotel. It eventually evaded capture by scaling a concrete flower bed measuring twice its own height. We say having a taste for staycations isn’t a crime!
  • In the summer of 2015, a female boar strolled into a children’s clothing store in Heng Fa Chuen’s Paradise Mall. It then proceeded to climb up into—and crash through—the shop’s fake ceiling, knock over and bite some mannequins, and make its way into a changing room. It took 10 officers several hours before they were able to have the animal taken away. 
  • Earlier that same day, another boar caused a scene when it joined in the splashy fun at a public pool at the Shing Mun Valley Park in Tsuen Wan.

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Photo: K.C. Hung (via Shutterstock)

What is being done about wild boars?

Of course, the average city dweller who spots a wild piggie or two on their hike may simply find the encounter charming, but the fact remains that boars have also been considered a nuisance for some Hongkongers. These animals are voracious omnivores and have been known to push over and rip apart bins in search of food on a nightly basis—a literal nightmare for urban cleaning efforts. 

They can be territorial and also aggressive to people who try to approach, particularly if they are sows with juveniles nearby. We don’t even want to think about how many crusty little dogs have been reduced to gibbering in fear after barking at a wild boar when on their daily walks.

Photo: KingRobert (via Shutterstock)

The AFCD has a team dedicated to monitoring and controlling wild boar-related issues, and since the 1970s, one of the government’s solutions to population control was to allow civilian volunteers the license to shoot and kill wild boars. With the rise of animal rights issues, this programme was finally halted in 2017, and the AFCD now mainly relies on capturing, sterilising, and releasing boars with a GPS tracking device when they receive complaint calls—effective, but time-consuming and costly.

It would be a far better solution for the public to simply stop feeding wild boars, which is still a common problem despite the government putting fines in place. In the long-term, this will help discourage the animals from venturing into city spaces too often or outright begging for food from people—remember that these are wild animals that belong out in nature and are perfectly capable of surviving on their own without relying on humans, anyway!

Photo: Yung Chi Wai Derek (via Shutterstock)

In 2019, the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group suggested to the government that efforts be made to set aside areas designated for the wild boars. Following a model successfully set up in European countries, food can be grown in those zones so that the animals can have a sustainable supply of food in their natural habitat instead of coming out into the city. It is an interesting concept, though whether our government takes the suggestion remains to be seen.

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Catharina Cheung

Former senior editor

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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